Author: Jess Walter
Citizen Vince is about a criminal from New York living in Spokane, Washington in 1980 as part of the witness protection program. A typical day for Vince involves working at a donut shop, dating a prostitute, and running a credit card scam on the side. When another criminal comes into town and begins shaking things up, Vince’s entire world is thrown upside down as he must avoid getting killed, arrested, or any other number of scenarios, none of them good.
Published in 2006, Walter uses the 1980 setting to add famous real life people to the story in a number of ways. The gangsters of New York will likely be familiar to most readers, and the dilemma of who to vote for (Carter or Reagan) takes up a significant portion of the book. In addition to Vince’s own dilemma of exercising his right to vote for the first time ever, there’s even a detour chapter written from both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan’s point of view on the eve of the election. It reminded me of one of the side character trips from The Rules of Attraction (that being one of my favorite books, I didn’t mind).
Although there is tension in this book, I wouldn’t call it a thriller or even a crime book. It’s a character study of Vince, the man he was and who he wants to become. When the climactic moment happens, I was waiting for other another character to show up that Walter had devoted several pages to, and although it didn’t happen the actual reveal was close enough that it did borderline on predictable.
I still enjoyed the book though. While not as funny as The Financial Lives of the Poets, Walter’s writing style here is similar to Nick Hornby or Meggan Abbott, in that I found myself smirking often enough while reading it. (Hornby is actually the reason I read this book, as he recommended it in his collection of reading essays Ten Years in the Tub.) My favorite chapter involved Vince having an evening out with a guy running for local office, and the effect Vince’s lifestyle had on him afterward. Similarly, Vince’s attempt at interacting with the beautiful woman who bought donuts once a week had me much more intrigues than the life or death stakes at the end of the book. As long as you’re not reading to find out who Vince voted for, this is book I’d recommend for those looking for a quick and enjoyable read.